Pynchon’s Bequest

Author: Robert L. McLaughlin (Illinois State University)

  • Pynchon’s Bequest


    Pynchon’s Bequest



Although Thomas Pynchon has famously avoided the spotlight, he and his work—especially Gravity’s Rainbow—nevertheless cast a large shadow over contemporary American fiction. In a Bloomian anxiety of influence, a subsequent generation of fiction writers—I’m thinking of writers like the late David Foster Wallace, William T. Vollmann, Rick Moody, Bradford Morrow, Mary Caponegro, Michael Chabon, A. M. Homes, Colson Whitehead, and the subject of the collection of essays under review, Richard Powers—has been inspired to write by Pynchon’s great novels but has also sought to find a way out from under their shadow. This anxiety is made more acute by the concomitant sense that the postmodernism exemplified by Pynchon and his fellow experimental writers of the sixties and seventies (Barth, Coover, Sorrentino, Gaddis, Barthelme, Reed, and so on) has reached something of a dead end. That is, postmodernism’s consciousness of language, its iconoclasm, and its questioning of all master narratives, which in the 1960s played an important role in exposing and debunking many long-held social conceits and hypocrisies, by the late 1980s and 1990s had devolved into an all-purpose irony, the rolling of the eye and the nudging in the ribs that mocks any assertion that eschews irony’s game and aspires to sincerity. As Wallace explained in a 1993 interview with Larry McCaffery, “Irony’s useful for debunking illusions, but most of the illusion-debunking in the U.S. has now been done and redone. . . . All we seem to want to do is keep ridiculing the stuff. Postmodern irony and cynicism’s become an end in itself, a measure of hip sophistication and literary savvy. . . . Irony’s gone from liberating to enslaving” (147).

How to Cite:

McLaughlin, R. L., (2011) “Pynchon’s Bequest”, Pynchon Notes , 246-252. doi:

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Published on
22 Sep 2011